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Disability: funding reasonable adjustments - PI071904

The Open University

A disabled student enrolled on a distance learning master’s degree, having successfully completed undergraduate studies at the provider. The student found the process of applying for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) more difficult than in previous years, in part due to the changes in which funding body was administering the process. The provider and the funding body had to resolve a concern about how to deal with non-conventional academic years.

The student’s needs were complex. Although the student received the maximum allowances for a non-medical helper, the funding was considerably short of the costs of the support recommended in their Needs Assessment Report.

The student complained that they were told they could not discuss how their needs would be met in the future, until all of the DSA funding had been spent. This caused the student considerable anxiety about whether there would be a gap in the provision of support. The student was also told to apply to a Study Support Fund to cover the shortfall. The student argued that the application process was very challenging, and that applications to the fund were means tested. The student argued that this was inappropriate, since under the Equality Act, students cannot be required to make a financial contribution towards the costs of reasonable adjustments.

The provider accepted that there were problems with the funding of the student’s support. It offered to reimburse the majority of the student’s non-medical helpers’ costs that had not been covered by DSAs, and made an offer of financial compensation for the severe distress and inconvenience caused. The student rejected the provider’s offer and complained to us.

We decided the complaint was Justified.

We decided that the provider had missed an opportunity to proactively explore with the student, before all the DSAs had been exhausted, whether there were any alternative options for providing reasonable adjustments. It was not reasonable to direct the student to a means-tested fund, nor to expect a disabled student to complete multiple lengthy application documents to other potential sources of funding. 

Having considered further evidence, we recommended that the provider meet the full cost of the student’s non-medical helper that had not been covered by DSAs. We also recommended a payment of compensation that was higher than the provider had offered, for the severe distress and inconvenience the student had been caused.